Shamil Buraez—Politkovskaya’s Killer or Fall Guy?

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 42

During his live question-and-answer session with the Russian people on October 18 (a veritable PR-fest for the Kremlin’s image-makers), Vladimir Putin talked about what he felt was important to the general population. He certainly found no room for questions about the issue of Anna Politkovskaya’s death. Similarly, there was no discussion of Chechnya, except for one question from the village of Botlikh (a highland settlement in Dagestan near the Chechen border) regarding the situation in the North Caucasus. Putin used this opportunity to tell people that everything was well and that the number of terrorist acts in the North Caucasus has been dropping year after year.

Given recent events, it seems unclear what the president means by “terrorist acts.” Ingushetia is aflame, every week brings a new murder to Dagestan and the police have been reinforced in Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia for over a year. If everything is fine in Chechnya, whom do the “Yug” and “Sever” military units fight month after month? Who is shooting and bombing the police in the republic? There are many questions, but few answers, since it seems like we are back in the Soviet society that once seemed to have vanished irrevocably. What we are seeing now, however, is a KGB state resurrected by a retired KGB officer, by a man that everyone thought would be unable to bring back the USSR within the new borders of the Russian Federation.

When Politkovskaya was murdered Putin acted as if nothing untoward had happened [1]. Only a year later, and under pressure from the international community, he declared that the investigation into the murder is being concluded. He noted: “the question of those who stand behind the murder is still unclear, but the actual killers are obvious and they are currently providing full confessions” (MK, October 13). Only someone who does not understand the current Russian criminal justice system can imagine that anything other than full confessions is being provided following such a presidential declaration. Putin’s words will be known to the prosecutors and judges and all the accused will certainly be put in prison.

Many theories have been advanced about Politkovskaya’s murder. Since Politkovskaya specialized in covering the subject of crime and human rights violations in Chechnya, it has long been assumed that there was a “Chechen trail” in her murder. This notion was always tied to the person of Ramzan Kadyrov, especially since Anna Politkovskaya never bothered to conceal her views of the man and criticized him in her speeches and newspaper articles.

It became quite clear early on that the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office would not dare to bother Ramzan Kadyrov, thus making it necessary to find another man who could be used instead. The search for such a man lasted for several months and a name was finally announced in August. To the overwhelming astonishment of the Chechen community, Shamil Buraev was declared the organizer of the murder (Newsru, September 17) [2]. Buraev is the former head of the Achkhoi-Martan district of Chechnya, a staunch opponent of Dudaev and Maskhadov, was part of the pro-Russian administration headed by Dokka Zavgaev in 1995, and in 1999 was one of those men who returned with the Russian tanks in 1999. He administered Achkhoi-Martan until being removed from the post by Akhmad Kadyrov in 2003 [3].

Shamil Buraev was one of the pro-Russian leaders who believed that none of the men that fought on the side of the guerrillas should ever be allowed to return to power, putting him into persistent conflict with Akhmad Kadyrov. That, at least, is the official version. The unofficial—and far more likely—version is that Buraev did not clearly understand the political situation in the republic, believing that Akhmad Kadyrov was a temporary leader. Since he was close to Beslan Gantamirov, Shamil Buraev expected to return to power with a new group of people. This was a serious miscalculation, since both Kadyrovs took harsh measures to repress all opposition within the republic. Buraev had no chance to return to Chechnya after the black mark he earned by participating in the June 2003 Chechen elections and not resigning in favor of Akhmad Kadyrov. In those elections, he received 3.3 percent of the vote, though this was assigned to him by the election commission. The so-called elections actually occurred without any voter participation, a fact noted by dozens of foreign journalists, with the results being simply decided upon by the Chechen authorities.

Buraev has a fairly weak link to the Politkovskaya affair. He had reasons to neither kill nor wish for the death of Anna Politkovskaya. During her career she wrote about Buraev only once, noting that he was removed from his position without due cause and simply on the whim of Akhmad Kadyrov (Novaya Gazeta, July 31, 2003). Such media attention tends to elicit gratitude, not the desire to commit murder. A few days after Buraev’s arrest, investigators seemed to realize that they had named him the key player in the murder far too quickly, and reduced the charge to being complicit in the murder (, September 22. Buraev’s attorney has noted that this turn of events make full persecution of his client unlikely.

It is probable that this particular investigation and trial will end in the same way that the previous well-publicized “Chechen” cases, such as the apartment building explosions in Moscow and Volgodonsk, did in the past. In those trials not a single Chechen was among those ordering, carrying out, or complicit in the explosions (, March, 11 2001). The events that brought Vladimir Putin to power were simply ideological propaganda intended for the masses. Chances are that we will see a courtroom trial conducted along the lines of the Stalinist show-trials of the 1930s, when no one will be able to explain why Shamil Buraev wanted to kill Anna Politkovskaya? Why he needed to get her address from an FSB officer (when her address was well known in the Chechen community) and why he hired a Russian criminal to do the job when he could have used members of the Chechen criminal world. All of these questions will probably be resolved by being tied to a yet unknown figure that has not yet been revealed in order to create a media sensation later. The whole affair seems inexplicable unless it is being directed by someone from the Kremlin.


1. Anna Politkovskaya was murdered in the entranceway to her apartment building in central Moscow on 10/07/06.

2. Shamil Dusievich Buraev was a candidate for the post of Chechen president in 2003, and former head of the Achkhoi-Martan district. He was awarded the “Order of Courage” medal by decree of the Russian President on June 5, 2000. From 1995 to 1997, Buraev headed the administration of the Achkhoi-Martan district. In the fall of 1999, after the start of the second Chechen campaign, Buraev returned to the republic and took over his old duties. In June 2003, Buraev was removed from his post by the decree of interim president Akhmad Kadyrov. A friend of Beslan Gantamirov, Buraev tried to work against the increasing power of Kadyrov and his followers.

3. For more information, please refer to the following link